271. Telegram From the Embassy in Greece to the Department of State1

4651. Personal for the Secretary from Ambassador.

I regret to report time has come to hoist urgent storm signals from Greece. Through multiple blunders of past fortnight instability endemic since July 1965 has deteriorated into imminent danger of first-class mess leading country to brutal choice between dictatorship and [Page 575] Andreas Papandreou-led attacks on monarch and probably Greece’s foreign alignment.
Our reporting has supplied details and, I hope, has adequately signalled threat to U.S. interests. In summary, Greek failure to find acceptable solution to 21-month political impasse has led principal players not to try harder but to dig deeper into inflexibly polarized positions. With King and one party (ERE) now aligned against rest of political field, traditional instruments of power—Palace, armed forces, conservative political and economic interests—find themselves ranged against all centrists as well as leftist elements, undoubtedly representing majority of population, who in turn act increasingly frustrated, angry, anti-monarchical and probably anti-Alliance.
PriMin Kanellopoulos as well as Papandreous and apparently bulk of voting population still want election May 28, but nobody can expect these to be ordinary elections. In relatively free elections under existing electoral system, Papandreous predicted to come in probably with clear majority and at least as leading party, depending on popular groundswell and also largely on how much strength Communist-line EDA diverts from its own candidates to Andreas-supported centrists.
This wouldn’t be too bad if George Papandreou would emerge as boss. At age 80, however, he’s lost biological race to his son Andreas, only other leader of vigor now in party, and a government with Andreas either as backstage manager or at helm would—as we evaluate thrust of his campaign—transform military high command into a party-controlled instrument and thus effectively break authority of King and traditional influentials in this country. United States would not necessarily find that and various domestic programs projected by Andreas so damaging except that they would give him springboard for foreign policies that sound like a Mediterranean Bhutto’s. Comfortable and satisfactory Greek-U.S. relationship of past 20 years would inescapably yield to kinds of strains we are experiencing not only in Pakistan but in too many other countries. By all signs visible here, Russians would not be slow to take advantage.
Fearing such consequences of adverse election results next month, coteries in Palace, armed forces and ERE are evidently building up steam for “constitutional deviation,” meaning dictatorship. They would hope to set things straight by period of firm rule and control of radicals. While their script is unclear, we presume that after dissolution of Parliament, and probably in May if election prospects then look unfavorable to them, current ERE government would be transformed into an emergency government with, initially, civilian Ministers backed up by armed forces under orders of King. Whether difficulties in enforcing order and meeting national problems would subsequently lead to direct [Page 576] army takeover is hard to perceive, as is method by which authoritarian rule would later make way for resumption of democratic government.
How to escape both Scylla and Charybdis? The King muffed best chance ten days ago when he failed to get smaller parties opposing Papandreous (FDK and Progressives) into governing combine with ERE. With Karamanlis, the “authentic” ERE leader, still in Paris, I am not sure even most powerful effort by King would have brought Kanellopoulos and small parties under same roof; at any rate, his milder efforts failed.
Since then, extremely limited remaining options have been intensively explored. We are told tonight that no nourishment has been found in any of possible alternatives to present course.
It now appears that Greece will proceed toward elections May 28 with King hoping ERE can garner enough support to hold Center Union to plurality. This result, still possible though not now probable, would be acceptable solution. It would enable King to insist on post-electoral coalition government excluding EDA and excluding Andreas from sensitive security ministries.
This is result I believe we should next encourage diplomatically and with whatever resources can be made available to us. Although it will open us to charge of consorting with rightwing, that is preferable to visible alternatives.
If ERE campaign falters under Center Union attacks on it and on King leaving prospect in mid-May of clear Center Union majority, then I believe dictatorship can be avoided if at all only by very heavy American pressures on Palace, armed forces and rightist politicians. From here I cannot judge what would be domestic US reaction to dictatorship in Greece, though I suppose it would produce new attacks (generated in part by anti-Royalist Greek-Americans) on administration’s alleged support of rightwing, militaristic, monarchical regimes and would deepen difficulties encountered by military assistance program on Capitol Hill. In any case, efforts cited earlier in this message would set Greece far back domestically and internationally and in end might not save either monarchy or Western orientation, though immediate foreign policy of authoritarian regime would presumably be pro-US.
As you know, King and Kanellopoulos have told me Greece “will not” be delivered to Andreas Papandreou. Nonetheless, we must consider this possibility if we are to oppose dictatorship. My own view is that key question—to which I have no present answer—is whether basic Greek institutions can withstand shock of Andreas’ takeover attempts so that further elections could be assured after couple of years or so. Based on his past record of executive performance, I believe Greek people would then reject him and excesses of his fiscal and administrative policies. In these circumstances we could live for a while with his abrasive if not defiant policies. However, Andreas strikes me as capable in adversity [Page 577] of dismantling traditional Greek institutions and policies if he is permitted to do so and to lead country even deeper into Nasserist posture.
Whole picture has many imponderables, of course. Questions that cannot now be answered but could vitally affect situation include such as when and how Karamanlis will return to Greek scene, when George Papandreou will disappear and effect of this on his party, and whether some new leader capable of challenging Andreas will emerge.
As any US action in this situation would need to be speedy and decisive, I should like to discuss issues personally with you and others before crunch comes. For this purpose I may ask soon to come to Washington for few days.
Meanwhile we have been urging conciliation and compromise on party leaders (though whether they have been listening is another question) and, as detailed in recent reports, in recent talks with King I have stated with increasing plainness our views of dangers in situation.
Sorry to burden you with this lengthy message, but despite your other preoccupations I fear you need now to be specifically informed on looming dangers here.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 GREECE. Secret; Priority.